Friday, June 18, 2010

The Sandwich Generation

Have you ever heard this term before?  Several years ago this was the hot buzzword, but I have noticed these days when I mention it, I am faced with blank stares.  Well, I think it is time to resurrect this metaphor.

The Sandwich Generation refers to those, like myself, who were born just after the baby boomers.  We have now entered our 40s and 50s and many of us find ourselves still caring for adolescent children in the home, but we are also now the primary caregivers for our aging parents.  We are, in essence, sandwiched between these two responsibilities and as a result, find ourselves squeezed from both ends.

What is really curious to me is that I have never been able to eat a sandwich.  I know, it is quite a simple task, but I am just not coordinated to take a bite without all the insides shooting out the other end.  My husband used to make fun me, rightly so, that I could ruin a perfectly good roast beef and swiss sub in about five bites.  But here is the thing...the way that I eat a sandwich has now become a reflection for my real life today.  Each time my mom is put in the hospital, each time she has a fall, or a dizzy spell, I feel a little bit more of my own insides being squeezed out the other end.  I expect to have issues with my own children, but I never expected to have issues with my mom.

I thought that at this time in my life I would begin to have an opportunity to live for me; to do the things that I wanted to do because I would have the time and the finances to be a little bit selfish.  As I wrote in my post yesterday in Life is a Verb Thursday.....I willingly put my life on hold saying "when this happens then..."  Well, "this" happened.  My youngest is a senior in high school this year and I can finally breathe a little sigh of relief.  I can begin to spend money and time on me and my own interests.  Or at least, that is how I envisioned it happening.  Instead, I find that I have very little free time because I am caring for a parent who doesn't really want to live (she has said so on many occasions), but she is too afraid to die.  It is emotionally draining.

Last summer I had to write some poetry for a creative writing class.  I am NOT a poet, and the poems were less than mediocre, but the subject of the poems still rings true.  One such poem was entitled Out to Lunch and it encapsulates these emotions in a concise way.  I will share it with you now, not because it is good, but because the essence of it is real:

Out to Lunch

The sandwich generation:
Caregivers to our parents as well as our children.

Mom is your basic white,
While my grown children would be marbled rye.
The teenager can definitely have her sourdough moments.

But what does that make me?       
I don’t have the sense of humor to pull off ham and cheese.
I hope I am not considered turkey.
Tuna Fish?  Nutritious but the smell keeps people at a distance.
Peanut Butter can be too annoying –
Sticking around where it is not wanted. 
Bratwurst might be nice, but I am neither hot nor spicy.
A Hero?  I would never be so presumptuous.

I think I might be a BLT:  Bound - Lonely - Tired. 

I understand the imagery, but I don’t like it.
Sometimes I want to forget about sandwiches
And order take out.

Are there any of you who feel the same way --- or am I the only one?


  1. I am coming up on my 47th birthday in a few weeks and my son is going to be a junior in high school. My parents are elderly (Dad is 96 and mom is 78) and it seems like one thing after the next sometimes. I know exactly what you mean and in more ways than one I am a "sandwich". Hope you will find balance and some time to yourself. You have earned it!

  2. I'm sorry things are so hard for you right now. I'm a few generations behind you so I don't have the same problems - yet. I know when I get older that my mother will be my sole responsibility as her oldest child. My younger siblings are 17 years younger than me so I know there's not much they'll be able to help with.

    I haven't heard the term "sandwich generation", but I've read many articles about your generation, suck taking care of parents and helping adult children because of the recession. It's like when are you ever going to get time just for you.

  3. I understand what you mean, Molly. The poem was very descriptive. LOL

    I also liked your story about never being able to eat sandwiches without stuff falling out or squeezing out. Me too.

    Ah, it's tough when you get to the point in your life where you're pretty much task completed with your kids and then here go the parents. I totally understand, seriously.

    And now that I am finished with that particular part of my life too (as both my parents with Alzheimers/dementia are now gone), I'm really not quite sure what to call myself. I was going through this as my daughter left for college, but the parent decline happened. Now....who am I?

    Hugs to you. Sigh. We'll get it figured out. Take care of yourself and give yourself some treats to get you through.

  4. My parents are still able-bodied and active, but I know this is not forever. My husband and I sit and dream about what we will do when our kids go off to college...move to the beach, golf, write a book, get my little white dog. But will we really? What happens when his parents, who live in Poland, need help? We have friends in your position, so I see the frustration. I saw both of my parents go through this. My heart is with you.

  5. I too am in the same deli that you are. And its not a very easy or enjoyable place to be. Thank you for this posting.

  6. I really enjoyed your poem ... and I'm not yet in your situation and I pray I'm not there anytime soon. You have my sympathies though ... it is a tough thing. Hugs.

  7. I think that poem expresses it well. I'm not in that situation yet, but my in-laws are. They have one kid they're still trying to help become independent, and on the other end one aging elderly parent.

  8. Luckily, we don't have to take care of our parents too much yet, but they are all starting to get there. By the time my youngest gets to the point your youngest is, in a couple of years, I think I'll be in the same place with, at least, the hubby's mom. It's a tough place to be. Especially when you sometimes feel like you can't be old enough yet to someone's parent!

  9. I can't imagine how draining it would be. It's tough times, but I don't think you'll look back and be sorry that you did your best to be there for your mom.

  10. I'm familiar with the "sandwich generation" and see myself edging closer and closer...
    My parents are in their mid-70's with issues just cropping up, and my youngest (the twins) have finished their junior year in high school. I'm the oldest sibling, and have the most "free time". We'll see...
    Your poem is perfect. Sorry thing are tough right now.

  11. Your poem is so on point. Although I'm a couple generations older than you I consider myself sandwiched in. I've been calling myself a Club Sandwich because there are so many layers to this experience. I have my 90 year old mother who needs more and more care. I also worry about my three children (in their 30s) and my grandchildren. As my husband and I enter our late sixties I worry about us as well. See what I mean about so many layers?

    My heart goes out to you Molly and I too send you some virtual hugs. I pass on some advice given to me: Just take one day at a time. I can't solve all the future problems. I can only deal with today.

  12. While I am not in your situation (though there have been a couple of scares), I do empathize, as I watch friends deal with many of the issues you describe so well. And I know that at some point, they will hit our family too.

    I eat sandwiches the same way. So frustrating to have the mayo spurting out the other side! (you made that a great metaphor, not incidentally) Liked your poem, too. Sometimes 'real' is all that matters. Best to you.

  13. Sorry I'm late getting this comment posted. I really feel for your situation. Our youngest graduated last month so we are experiencing a little freedom physcially (though not financially for another 4-5 years when they have both completed college). Dave's mom is in advanced stage of Alzheimers so we are experiencing some of the squeeze. Can't give you any great words of wisdom to make it go away - but I can tell you you're not alone.


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